All posts by Adolf Alzuphar

L&T: Léonore Boulanger

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

Feigen Feigen begins at its cover art: an odd bird and an odd rabbit. Each is rendered psychedelically, albeit a soft city psychedelia, intellectual and seemingly rooted in anthropology.

That the bird has the rabbit’s head and the rabbit the bird’s is a prelude to the album’s musical art. These are artful songs, though none as direct as Edith Piaf’s, Massenet’s, or Barbara’s, etc, and closer to a Lou Reed’s. They are all difference being sung to those who are accustomed to the expected in terms of text put to music. I’d recommend listening to the entire album, before choosing a particular beloved.

Venus? Dionysius? Or is this the work of one of Pan’s sirens? Is this meant to be danced? Listened to politically, in order write liberty all over, to paraphrase Paul Elouard? I’d argue that this is the work of the help of a postmodern Venus, product of a dream that a woman once had to produce music that would both infatuate and impose: there are two question marks on the front cover for that purpose.

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L&T: Egberto Gismonti

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.

The year is 1979. Historically, string instrument is itself and its opposite in the game of political ideology: both an instrument of folk-ish fight and of sublime pleasure for the privileged. It was the lyre. It now fuels trova.

The Guitar. The left is tres popular: the Berlin Wall has yet to fall in ’89. However, though some are aware of the instrument’s history, most now revere (quietly) the violin or the cello, for example, as Art, though most listen to the guitar much more. It’s the 20th century of high art’s luster. It is why the 21st is such.

It’s 1979 and Egberto Gismonti releases Solo.

Orpheus holds court in 1979. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal had been sparked by the guitar in 1974. Bossa Nova has also happened: Tom Jobim, etc. The guitar is on the radio, in 20th century salons, but also in nightclubs.

In 1979: Gismonti plays “us” a single 8 string guitar, alone, along with piano, and surdo (drum,) placing his own ideas and ideals onto an agora’s stand. Which party have you pledged Gismonti? Do you dream of a guitar’s song that will lift the people, le peuple? 

Perhaps neither to be political nor to be a flaneur but to, instead, draw his society and others a Sun, life, art, for “not forgetting, even without seeing” to quote the Brazilian poet Armando Freitas Filho, in 1979.

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L&T: Abed Azrie

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.

It’s only cultural that we each, every human, every mind, has had a personal history with music narrative. What line of text put to music, text that was music, began this condition of yours: you, librarian of an own multicultural Alexandria (metaphor,) looking, searching, browsing, to have heard, felt, even feared, for the what a singer said?

For some, this line of sung text is a poem’s: a poem adapted into song. There are the few whose society have both produced or adhered to the concepts “poem” and “music,” and have combined the two into singing poetry as a tradition. France is well known for this praxis.

Adonis:
Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies.

Adonis, a Syrian poet living in France, is a brilliant writer of often long poems that are often simple when read.

Abed Azrie is a wonderful Syrian musician and singer now living in France.

Perhaps the two first met in France but their album Abed Azrie chante Adonis, in France language, combines Syrian poetry with singing of Syrian descent into living as according to French culture: a living of “chanson” (text molded into song.)

The songs themselves are not in French and that’s exactly the point: it is Abed Azrie singing Adonis, the great poet, to hopefully satisfy we post modern machines in musical text, in language as music as poetry atop of music.

It’s only correct to have a personal history with musical text in our age of postmodern thoughts even in the most traditional societies, and technologies that have quite simply allowed all revelry, contemplation, in the gardens of musical collections that were one only afforded to owners of music collections.  A garden of becoming and not of identity, for if writer Andre Malraux was right about anything: art is metamorphosis.

Abed Azrie chante Adonis

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A Nobel Prize?

The victory in Bob Dylan’s winning a Nobel Prize is for songwriting. Dylan is nowhere near one of the greatest songwriters. However, this may finally be Gideon’s triumph.

Many of the men and women of literature’s ivory tower are well known for not giving the respect that is due to songwriters by not considering them writers of literature, despite the fact that the first poets of Western Civilization like Homer were singer-songwriters (aoidos.) Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature finally vindicates literate songwriting.

For some, Dylan’s win reinforces what much of his public has known all along: that we’ve been listening to a home grown Homer, writer of the Illiad, this whole time.

For others, it is a bad decision on the part of the folks at the Swedish Academy.

Songs are literature and have always been. In the England of the 18th century, with which the US shares its culture, poems were often referred to as songs. The classic English poet William Blake, who was well known for singing his poems, even wrote a book of poems entitled Songs. Elizabethans of the 16th century before him wrote “song books” to mean books of poetry, for poems were meant to be both read and sung. It was in this same age and spirit that a man by the name of William Shakespeare was also a songwriter, for example for his play Othello.

Some might argue that the English tradition is not the American one and that we don’t traditionally produce that many songbooks that can be read to go along with songs. Genius.com would beg to differ.

It’s not just that musical literature deserves praise. Let’s be real: written literature owes itself to sung literature. Popular songs provide the lyrics, the verses, stories, romances, dramas, that culture a populace. The lyrics of songs gave way to the souls that write lyrics, being that sung literature defines a national community’s outlook on life like a written poem never does.

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L&T: Juan Gabriel

Juan Gabriel - Con Mariachi Vol. 2
Juan Gabriel – Con Mariachi Vol. 2

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.

Juan Gabriel’s album Con Mariachi Vol. 2 confers Mexican society a variation of traditional spirit that it delights in, this time made fashionably beautiful.

Juan Gabriel is a product of the 20th century whereas Mariachi style of the 19th century. In the 19th century, only the opera singer or the composer was conferred the titles artist, fashionable, beautiful, and could represent a nation. All others were quite simply entertainers.

With the 20th century came both radio and the idea that crowds could decide on the representation of a nation through song, despite the countless songs of the French, American, Haitian, or Mexican revolutions. Mariachi came to represent identity. The 20th century also brought along both prestige for modern art and creatives at marketing and media companies inspired by modern art in the aesthetics of their communication. Juan Gabriel came to represent fashionable beauty.

Gabriel produces 20th century crowd music, for those obsessed with visual beauty, true to 19th century style of music subservient to rituals of fiesta in a society, as opposed to producing them. He does this through his person. Mariachi is wedding music, event music: Gabriel makes good with the idea that is a traditional fiesta, true to old dreams.

Buy Con Mariachi Vol. 2

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L&T: Brad Mehldau

Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau - Nearness
Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau – Nearness

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

Vocal music has surpassed instrumental music in popularity despite the advent of electronica music and its subgenres. It’s a sign of deep cultural change, as the change in importance from the cantanta to that of the sonata with the advent of classical music also was.

Brad Mehldau records instrumental music that could be more popular as vocal music: romantic songs, blues, ballads, and even an album named Ode (as in the genre of poetry.) He seems to feel a particular conviction about instrumental music.

He has just released an album with Joshua Redman, Nearness. Featuring songs with titles such as “The Nearness of You,” but also “Old West,” the album seems to explore a theme beyond the grasp of its listener. Redman’s playing and sharp and sober and so is Mehldau’s for all 6 rhythmic and romantic compositions. Like for classical music, the birth of instrumental music’s hegemony, this sort of music is made to be appreciated and deciphered and even patroned as Jazz often is in present day.

Buy Nearness

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L&T: The Robert Glasper Experiment

Robert Glasper Experiment - Artscience
Robert Glasper Experiment – Artscience

Robert Glasper Experiment – Artscience (Blue Note, 2016)

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

We’re explained Artscience on the track “This Is Not Fear”: ‘my people’s music’. In other words, ‘my people’s music’ is its genre, ‘my people’s music’ is its purpose, ‘my people’s music’ is the root of its songs’ aesthetics.

When famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax went looking for Jazz’s roots (he documents this in the book Mister Jelly Roll) he found himself speaking to folks who all had a trade, a prestigious thing in old New Orleans, played Jazz for the art. Alphonse Picou, a legendary clarinetist, who wrote the classic “High Society,” owned several homes. Eventually, the often creole tradespeople he met were ostracized from the roles they traditionally played in New Orleans society. Some of these creoles became professional Jazz musicians to make a living. Thus began the second chapter to the history of a music meant to both be fine art and entertain seedy society: both an art and a science.

“Day To Day” sounds a bit like disco, with hints of go-go. The singing is auto-tuned which is very unexpected in a Jazz song. The organ playing reminds of a Stevie Wonder performance and the beat Micheal Jackson; it’s a medley of musical goodness. The lyrics are sung in the present tense in which a guy quite plainly tells a girl / boy that he’s “living day day to day” and to “show me the way to your heart”; nothing that would persuade a girl / boy really but easy to sing along to. It ends with the band laughing, as if the end of a Hip Hop song.

Like for “Day To Day,” the lyrics of “No One Like You” are pretty simple and don’t get under the skin. However, they are easy to sing along to. The song’s drums are out of this world, to be up front about listening to them play through this composition. The piano playing is impressionistic, controlled; beautiful.

“Find You” is sung in the past tense and the future tense, in aim to produce an ideal present. The jamming in the song is great Jazz. It’s the best written song on this album and a song for our times obsessed with becoming and with change. “Find you” could be about a man or a woman but it could also be about social peace; the ambiguity of its lyrics makes it phenomenal to sing along to.

This is an avant-garde listen: songs by those who venture out to test the waters, as the term first meant in military speak. This is spirituality, intellect, and beauty.

Buy Artscience

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Length & Time: Ashleigh Smith

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.

Not too long ago, populaces loved and lived mainly along to the sounds of acoustic instruments. These days, electronic songs thrill larger crowds. It’s the case for Jazz, where electronic Jazz, especially electronic Jazz-fusion, became the new popular Jazz with Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Some musicians, nonetheless, despite the dominance of electronic music, continued and continue to practice acoustic Jazz. Ashleigh Smith’s Sunkissed is some of the most pleasant acoustic Jazz recently released, especially because of Smith’s vocals.

Smith is this album’s main attraction. Though her band plays hard and is full of instruments, her alto singing resonates more than the rest of her band. In “Love is You,” and in “Sara Smile” her voice steals the show. For “Sara Smile,” the drumming is loud but the song is about her singing. Smith’s singing ‘my / darling’ resonates more than heavy drumming, impressively.

“Blackbird” is a song that features a blackbird: that bird-muse of classical poets like Wallace Stevens (Among twenty snowy mountains / The only moving thing/ Was the eye of the blackbird.) When she sings “black / bird / fly,” it is a metaphor of someone presented in elsewhere in the song “you / were / only waiting.”; it is well sung poetry. The song features incredible piano and cool (calm and collected, not cool jazz) drumming.

About her own art, black woman painter of Color Fields Alma Thomas has stated that she strove to, simply, “paint something beautiful.” “Something beautiful,” as opposed to entertaining, moving, or political, is a traditional aesthetic in the Jazz singing and art in general of black women. It is “permission to be who I am” as Smith sings on “Love Is You.” Smith is the very best of the young black women who are in line to sing primarily beautiful Jazz, like Cassandra Wilson, have before her. As with Alma Thomas, there is hedonism to this beauty, though the sober kind.

The sultry acoustic Jazz song made for radio play that Ashleigh Smith and her band practices comes off as being that of a tradition. Along with it sounding traditional, Sunkissed seems to ask of its listener to dance like one did in the past, as opposed to as one does in this boisterous present. If anything, it’s neo-acoustic jazz, the sort that enlivens with traditionalism.

Buy Sunkissed in the Americas

Buy Sunkissed in Europe

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Length & Time: Sevana Siren

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.

The quotidian elegance of Jamaica’s women flows forth from the culture of the Akan groups of present day Ghana, along with that of other immigrants who’ve populated the Caribbean island. The archaeology of Akan culture has presented findings that are much more elegant than the creations of the Yoruba, the people from Dahomey, and the Kongo who populated the remainder of the Caribbean. Akan art is clean and their Kente clothing patterned.  Their language, Ashanti, Asante, or Twi, is one of power and beauty, of brilliant tonality, of pride in selfhood, being that Ashanti (the most dominant of the Akan) itself translates to ‘descending from war.’

In a polity that descendants of these Akan now live, Jamaica, this femininity exists side by side with the need to thrive in Jamaican capitalist society, a ‘plantocracy’ is what President Michael Manley called it, and the urbanite conviction that the society that they desire will come from political action. Protesters are produced alongside a middle class that seeks to live in a capitalist society that is somewhere between wanting to an industrial society because of cheap labor and a post-industrial society because such a society is so good to Americans and those who live in Europe. These descendants of the Akan have been a revolting people and the Jamaican maroons are now well known. A Jamaican Boukman (man with a book) even participated prominently in the Haitian revolution.

Sevana Siren is a singer of  artful reggae pop songs as if a Jamaican version  of Brazil’s MPB genre. They are songs full of synth wherein we hear acoustic guitars and acoustic drums: meld-ings. They feel traditional because of their instrumentation, as if artful pop steeped in Jamaican tradition (though limited to the traditions that begin during Jamaica’s 20th century.)

Her songs are well written and well constructed, positive in the land of both reggae and dancehall. Her first album Sevana is titled to express self-hood. It is a reggae album. The cover is elegant pop, as elegant as her songs, pointing us in the direction of the identity that is at the foundation of this music: vibrant femininity.

 

 

Their texts are sentimental balladry: that of a woman with modernist and postmodernist sentiments. Case in point is her song “Bit Too Shy” where she is honest about how shy a boy is and the initiative that a girl must take to woo him. Its video features her in minimal, elegant, style, singing along to maximal melody: an enthralling figuration of reggae.

To her times, she sings self-hood artfully, not in its anthropological sense, but in the same sense that an artful European or American singer expresses self-hood today. This self-hood is elegant (her songs are from beginning to end,) as elegant as many Jamaican women are on a minute to minute basis.  This self-hood is loud and proud. It is full of parables “no, you can’t be dirty” that tale us that Sevana‘s art is a crystallization of what is beautiful, melodic, about Jamaica’s everyday.

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Length & Time: AZ

AZ - "Demen Mwen Prale"
AZ – “Demen Mwen Prale”

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

She’s yet to release an album but her song “Demen Mwen Prale” thrills Port au Prince. The song’s video is also exciting. It’s a simple song wherein her grave singing is accompanied mostly by an acoustic guitar.

Her artist name, her nom de guerre, is AZ. It is short for Asaphe Micaelle Jean Louis. She is a philosopher and teaches philosophy to High Schoolers.

She’s said in an interview that she spent some years, her years of university, living like a Diogene, an idealist, but changed when she got married and began both her singing and teaching careers. She writes some of her songs and for them she would like to express ideas that are debated in philosophical space where philosophy meets music such as in the works of Nietzsche, Adorno, and others. When performing live, she sings Jazz songs also – whatever song she considers beautiful.

Her first album will be released soon, “Sonje.” The title is Haitian kreyol for ‘remember.’

So far, she is not a political singer. She would like to sing art to her times, art that roots itself in aesthetics (philosophy.) Her songs are radio songs, made for alternative play. They are as if made to be played ideally in ‘cafe space,’ with the hopes that they come to resonate as much as a Trova or a chanson. They are the beginnings of what Barbara achieved in France and Omara Portuondo in Cuba: songs that are deeply ‘art.’

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